Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Protection and Preservation of Truth

Written by: on December 1, 2022

James O’Toole is a distinguished professor of business ethics, and his research and writings have focused on the areas of leadership, ethics, corporate culture, and philosophy. In his discussion, Speaking Truth to Power: A White Paper, Dr. O’Toole drew a couple of key insights into the ethical practice of speaking truth to power in the context of leadership in modern corporate organizations. James wrote, “Speaking truth to power is perhaps the oldest and, certainly, one of the most difficult of ethical challenges because to do so entails personal danger.”[1] He explores further how the dynamics of speaking truth to power can determine the success and failures of leadership and organizations. He gave many illustrations of speaking truth to power from modern corporate examples to introduce three important ethical leadership principles highlighted as responsibilities of messengers, responsibilities of listeners, and organizational responsibilities.

The emperors and leaders bear the responsibility to make things work out and make more profit year after year. If one thinks about how volatile and unpredictable the future is in our world, that is one heck of a responsibility on the shoulders of the powerful. Most of the powerful climbed and rose to that exact throne of power because they were right in the past in predicting the future. But, as James points out, “In both the public and private sectors, the very strengths of leaders are often also their weaknesses…that supreme self-confidence found among most great leaders, a belief that they not only are right but that they cannot fail,”[2] they can’t always be right time after time, ultimately all leadership will fail if it isn’t evolving to be more alive and grow beyond the status quo.

I personally found these principles to be a helpful personal reflection and in applying to my ministry contexts:

  • Responsibilities of Messengers – “Stephen Carter lays out three requisite steps for the exercise of integrity: (1) discerning what is right and what is wrong; (2) acting on what you have discerned, even at personal cost; (3) saying openly that you are acting on your understanding of right and wrong.”[3]
    • As the leadership teams grow in size, how can I create a culture where it is safe to openly share personal opinions and perspectives with one another? Being in a more dominant Asian culture, I see that people are afraid of sharing what they really are thinking inside.
  • Responsibilities of Listeners – “That is why I believe the mantle of true greatness should be reserved only for those leaders who possess the “feminine” virtues of humility, inclusion, vulnerability, service to others, and respect for people.”[4]
    • What does it mean to reflect “feminine” virtues of humility, inclusion, vulnerability, service to others, and respect for people in top leadership meetings? The make-up leadership composition is changing fast these days to include diversity and minorities.
  • Organizational Responsibilities – “This is the definition of transparency, of a company with no secrets, one in which every employee is empowered to speak the truth…He (Jack Stack) had to learn to trust his employees with managerial and financial information typically hoarded by executives in most companies.”[5]
    • The church and Christian mission organizations have to strive to be more transparent both within the organization and to the outside for those who are giving donations. Transparency will ultimately build lasting trust that will protect the organization and top leadership. The corporate management style of limited information builds doubts and division over the years.

As Christian leaders, it isn’t easy to do the right thing and live up to the right thing because of spiritual battles and wickedness that act out in times of chaos. Many Godly leaders face failures of mentors and bosses who place personal gains and profits over Christian values and ethics. Sometimes one has to leave the organization and wash their hands clean from bad blood, but sometimes one is called to fight to protect the organization’s future faith. May God bring protection and guidance to those speaking the truth to power~

[1] O’Toole, James. 2015. “Speaking Truth to Power: A White Paper – Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.” October 15, 2015. https://www.scu.edu/ethics/focus-areas/business-ethics/resources/speaking-truth-to-power-a-white-paper/


[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

About the Author


Jonathan Lee

President of Streamside Ministry Lead Pastor of EM @ San Jose Korean Presbyterian Church in Sunnyvale, CA

12 responses to “Protection and Preservation of Truth”

  1. mm Andy Hale says:


    Christian leaders are a unique crop of people. We have countless examples of ones who have insulated themselves from candor and alternative views, leading to tremendous downfall or complete irrelevance.

    What is it about certain church cultures that create this type of atmosphere?

    • mm Jonathan Lee says:

      The book reminded me of Messiah culture in church leadership styles especially in Korean church culture. It is difficult to speak the truth to the king who holds all the power and wants to stay in that power as long they can. I believe in diversifying power of finance and authority as much as possible in order for the church to be more healthy in the future. Also, a culture of channeling away finances and resources. I see problems arise as church hoards more wealth.

  2. mm Eric Basye says:

    Great blog. I also appreciated the princiles you note in your blog. Have you hear of Ira Chaliff? I fascinating read on what he calls “followership.”

    In what ways do you envision promoting this kind of culture within your church?

    • mm Jonathan Lee says:

      I strongly believe in creating a healthy team dynamic. It is crucial for the leadership to build a safe and constructive atmosphere for the leadership team to be able to give honest input and criticism. But, also I believe it is important for the followers to move with the leader once the decision has been made and united.

      • mm Nicole Richardson says:

        I agree. The challenging part is having the person actually come along once the decision is made. What way/s have you developed that speak to the different aspects of leadership we have be reading that facilitate that kind of responsiveness in the team?

  3. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Nice post. When does a person leave and how long should they stay? I am that person who has been known to stay longer than what others might. How might a leader’s personal character development contribute to openness and transparency?

    • mm Jonathan Lee says:

      I’ve been through couple difficult situations where I had to leave and where I stuck around to fight for what I believed it was right thing to do for God and for the sake of congregation and organization. I think lot of times when you belong to top leadership position, we have the responsiblity to stick around and resolve the situation that no one wants to deal with. I think irresponsibility of a leader happens when they simply exit or walk away because it is the easier choice to make. And I often find speaking in honesty and openness in times of confusion and doubts for the other party brought clarity and God’s will in the making decisions for the next step.

  4. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Jonathan, thanks for this insightful post. How does the Korean culture handle “speaking truth to power?” I’m a little familiar with Japanese culture that seeks to “save face” making what O’Toole describes a delicate challenge. Also, is there a tension for Korean-Americans with two difficult cultural cues.

    • mm Jonathan Lee says:

      In Korean culture, one can never speak truth to power because culturally it is bringing shame to the authority and older. It is very difficult to speak truth to power because the society is also a more community over personal preference. Also, many times in these immigrant church settings, there is always cultural clash between 1st generation from mother land and 2nd generation of American culture ministers. 1st gen ministers tend to be more subtle in their communication while the 2nd gen speaks with clarity and direct openness. Differences in opinions often brings division and breakdown of relationships.

      • Kayli Hillebrand says:

        Jonathan/Roy – I was also thinking about honor-shame cultures as we were doing this reading. Have you thought about how you approach this with youth in your church/NPO context? Does culture still take lead as new generations grow or is there more of a shift towards societal standards?

  5. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Jonathan: It isn’t easy for leaders to always listen and it isn’t easy for employees to speak the truth to their leader. This brief paper does a great job of outlining the principles to do so and your post nicely summarizes those principles. Have you ever had to speak truth to power in a ministry setting? I haven’t but if I do, I will follow the advice O’Toole gives in this white paper.

  6. mm Jonathan Lee says:

    I had to endure through couple times where speaking the truth to power costed and recently I had to speak truth to one of the board members (much older and long relationship of mentorship) that was very difficult. It was a very difficult and long process, but at the end of the whole process, it brought greater freedom and well-being to the organization. I learned managing crisis for executive leadership requires differenciated perspective to navigate between difficult waters of personal relationships and organization overseers responsibilites.

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